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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Four percent tuition hike untenable

Published: March 21, 2013
Section: Opinions

Last month, members of student press and the Student Union gathered in the SCC multipurpose room to listen to Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel discuss the annual budget. On Thursday, the Board of Trustee’s meeting approved a 3.94 percent increase in overall students costs.

According to Flagel, Brandeis has an annual budget of roughly $320 million, slightly less than half of which is funded through the “undergraduate bill,” including tuition, housing, books, meal plans and other sources of income.

Roughly 87 percent of this budget is spent on staff and operating costs, salaries and benefits, and financial aid. Essentially, that leaves 13 percent of the budget that the board decides how to administer.

“There is not a massive amount of wiggle room,” Flagel said last month. “It’s a constant process of figuring out how to weigh the importance.”

In recognizing that almost half of the annual budget derives from the undergraduate tuition bill, Flagel said that the university must sustain a growing student body in order to continue increasing the quality of education that students receive here at Brandeis.

In order for Brandeis to provide the type of education that it wants to, it must increase its tuition dollars. In reality, however, this increase does not correspond with Brandeis’ mission of embracing social justice and accepting students based on academic excellence. If Brandeis wants to be perceived as an institution that can be easily accessible to those who can contribute to the school’s vision, it needs to start taking college affordability much more seriously and start creatively conserving its budget.

A four percent increase may be relatively small for one year, but the current first year class planning to enroll next year will experience an overall 8.79 percent increase in two years because of last year’s 4.85 percent increase on new students. It places the current undergraduate student body’s pocketbooks in peril; with another near 4 percent tuition and fee increase each year, by the time we graduate we will have paid a substantial amount more than we intended for when we first enrolled.

Flagel discussed the steps that the administration is taking in order to cut spending and increase efficiency. Most importantly, the administration is considering altering the budget structure, increasing technology utilization, and assessing how much we get out of every dollar we spend in order to reduce costs. Some of the budgetary factors that will be highlighted include course overload, infrastructure and academic flexibility.

The tuition increases are expected to raise the number of financial aid dollars given, although this will not be finalized until admissions can predict the amount of financial aid that will be needed for the incoming first year class. This makes me wonder if Brandeis will have to look more carefully at applications that request fewer financial aid dollars than at applications that are in greater need of financial help. This is not desirable for Brandeis but might be unavoidable if we cannot find other ways to procure additional funds for the budget.

As a younger institution, it is understandable that Brandeis is challenged with a smaller endowment than its competitors. It is important that the university instills a culture of giving and lifelong connection in its alumni because their support is crucial at an institution this new. We attend a private university that is nationally ranked as one of the best institutions in the country. This is a constant challenge for the administration to keep the prices low and maintain the university’s needs. But if Brandeis wants to continue to stand out as a school whose mission is to provide an education with the based on the principles of social justice, it has to start radically shifting the way in which it considers the tuition bill.

And so we question, is increasing the tuition price the correct response to our institution’s desire to produce the world’s individual leaders?